Following a rancorous public meeting where Wal-Mart officials unveiled plans to close their Abingdon store and build a Supercenter near Plumtree Rd. in Bel Air, Harford County Executive David Craig entered the fray, echoing public concerns about traffic and offering to help the company find ways to expand at the Abindgon site. Because Supercenters sell groceries, Wal-Mart officials told Craig that one of the stumbling blocks to staying in Abingdon was a restriction on the sale of groceries at that location. But the grocery restriction may not be carved in stone.
Designed to limit competition, the grocery restriction stems from a covenant in the deed to land near the Abingdon Wal-Mart that was purchased in 1988 by Constant Limited Partnership and later developed as Constant Friendship Shopping Center.
Constant Limited Partnership secured a covenant with the seller, Emmorton Venture, to limit the sale of groceries on other land in the area that Emmorton Venture also owned, including the parcel later purchased by Wal-Mart. The restriction limits the sale of groceries to 5,000 sq.ft. of floor space for 30 years from the date of the deed. But the 30-year grocery restriction, which expires in 2018, seems to have outlived its purpose because the Weis Markets grocery store that once anchored the Constant Friendship Shopping Center has since been replaced by non-grocery retailers, DSW and HomeGoods.
Industry sources disagree about whether or not the grocery restriction would be enforceable under the circumstances. Regardless, the restriction is currently of little use to Constant Limited Partnership and with the expiration date only six years away, might Constant Limited Partnership and Wal-Mart come to terms on a waiver?
Donald Goldman, general partner of Constant Limited Partnership and a principal of Brooks & Goldman Realty LLP in Reisterstown, told The Dagger that Wal-Mart and Harford County officials had been in touch regarding the grocery restriction, but no agreement had been reached as of early August. Goldman wrote in an August 3rd email:
“We have had discussions with Harford County officials and Wal Mart representatives to discuss a resolution. We are open to future discussions.”
County Executive Craig said on Monday that he was investigating whether the restriction may have somehow already expired, but he also said that further discussions with Goldman were planned.
When asked about the factors limiting a store expansion at the Abingdon site and whether the decision to relocate to Bel Air might be reconsidered in light of Craig’s involvement, Wal-Mart officials did not provide a response. However, a company representative at the community meeting in July cited the location of storm water management and other physical restraints at the Abingdon site, along with grocery sales, as being among the factors in the company’s decision to move.
Wal-Mart is under no obligation to publicly disclose the reasons for their move and as County Executive Craig and other county officials have noted, the zoning at the Plumtree site allows Wal-Mart to operate at that location.
As for what may happen to Wal-Mart’s Abingdon site, company officials said at the community meeting that options would be explored once the move to Bel Air was assured. It is worth noting, however, that the company’s plans in Abingdon once included both a Wal-Mart store and a Sam’s Club, according to court records. Speculation about a possible Bass Pro Shop moving to the Abingdon Wal-Mart site could not be confirmed with either company.
Should plans proceed to build the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Bel Air, the next steps include submission by the company of a traffic study and site plan to the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning. As of Tuesday, August 14th, neither had been received, according to Shane Grimm, county chief of the Board of Appeals and Site Plan Review.
Below is a copy of the 1988 deed with the covenant containing the grocery restriction.